Unintended consequences of COVID-19 safety measures on patients with chronic knee pain forced to defer joint replacement surgery

Pain Rep. 2020 Oct 12;5(6):e855. doi: 10.1097/PR9.0000000000000855. eCollection 2020 Nov-Dec.


In recent months, with the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American College of Surgeons and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officially recommended the delay of nonemergency procedures until the public health crisis is resolved. Deferring elective joint replacement surgeries for an unknown period is likely to decrease the incidence of infection with SARS-CoV-2 but is likely to have detrimental effects in individuals suffering from chronic knee pain. These detrimental effects extend beyond the discomfort of osteoarthritis (OA) and the inconvenience of rescheduling surgery. Disabling pain is a driving factor for individuals to seek medical intervention, including pharmacological palliative treatment and surgical procedures. The need for surgical intervention due to chronic pain as for knee and hip replacement is now put on hold indefinitely because access to surgical care has been limited. Although a moderate delay in surgical intervention may not produce a significant progression of OA within the knee, it could lead to muscle wasting due to immobility and exacerbate comorbidities, making rehabilitation more challenging. Importantly, it will have an impact on comorbidities driven by OA severity, notably decreased quality of life and depression. These patients with unremitting pain become increasingly susceptible to substance use disorders including opioids, alcohol, as well as prescription and illegal drugs. Appreciation of this downstream crisis created by delayed surgical correction requires aggressive consideration of nonsurgical, nonopiate supported interventions to reduce the morbidity associated with these delays brought upon by the currently restricted access to joint repair.

Keywords: COVID-19; Chronic pain; Depression; Elective surgery; Joint pain; Joint replacement; Opioid; Osteoarthritis; Quality of life; Total knee arthroplasty.

Publication types

  • Review